MediaPost 2006 Online All Star: Gillian Smith

Finder of Fast-Food Firsts

Gillian Smith,Senior Director, Media and Interactive, Burger King Corp

Gillian Smith is the first to point out that she didn't major in marketing, doesn't have an M.B.A., and is not the first person on her block to acquire the newest, hottest technology.

In fact, the way Smith describes landing her current position almost sounds like a "You want fries with that?" moment. When she was promoted to senior director of interactive in 2004, the media director was retiring, so in a sense she was "upsold" a second job.

It's been worth it. Among the firsts Burger King has racked up under Smith's leadership: The fast-feeder was the first advertiser to sponsor downloadable TV shows on a social networking site, partnering with Fox to distribute episodes of shows such as "24" on MySpace; it was one of the first brands to participate in Verizon's test of mobile banner ads on WAP-enabled sites; and it partnered with video site Heavy to offer the first ad-supported, user-generated content available for download to a video iPod. The tie-in with Heavy featured the King masks that sold for Halloween last October.

"My approach has always been nontraditional, in the sense of questioning things," Smith says.

"Gillian really challenges the internal team here, as well as our partners, to think creatively about all the possibilities in the digital arena," says Tia Lang, manager of marketing and interactive for Burger King. "She's very good at saying, 'What else can we do?'"

Smith began her marketing career as a brand manager for Coca-Cola, then worked for the Sunbeam Corp., launching a Web site for the Oster brand. She joined Burger King in 2000 as a product marketing manager and rose to ad manager for Burger King before landing her current title.

Nick Centofante, media director for VML, Burger King's online agency of record, says Smith is very good at encouraging her agency partners to come up with ideas no one else has tried. "Burger King gets the most out of all of their marketing dollars, I believe, because of Gillian," Centofante says. "She understands that you want your brand to be associated with technology that's cool and innovative."

Indeed, Smith says one of the things that excites her about her job is keeping pace with new technology.

"Two years ago, if someone told me, 'Hey, wouldn't it be great if you could find a Burger King with your mobile phone?' I would have said, 'Yeah, but you can't do it.' Well, you can now."

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